Photo Courtesy: From Presidency to Pentangular, by Vasant Raiji and Mohandas Menon.
Rustomji Jamshedji Dorabji Jamshedji. Photo Courtesy: From Presidency to Pentangular, by Vasant Raiji and Mohandas Menon.

Rustomji Jamshedji, born November 18, 1892, never got a proper run in First-Class cricket thanks to the domestic structure of the 1920s and 1930s. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at India’s oldest Test debutant who also played his first Test on home soil.

Parsees started cricket among the Indian “natives”. They had even toured England as early as in 1886, so it was not surprising that a Parsee — the exotically named Rustomji Jamshedji Dorabji Jamshedji was the first Indian Test cricketer to be born. He also went on to become India’s oldest debutant, but more of that later.

Jamshedji belonged to that unique species of cricketers who could bowl long spells, strike at regular intervals, and keep wickets with élan if required. He had to choose one of the two duties, and went for the former; in a career that spanned 16 seasons Jamshedji played only 29 First-Class matches, accounting for 134 wickets at 22.12. Unfortunately, India’s late entry to the highest level meant that Jamshedji’s Test career was restricted to a solitary appearance.

Early days

Jamshedji senior was a bank employee. Born in Bombay, our hero did his matriculation, but did not study much further. He played cricket, but serious cricket in India was hard to come by. Those were the early days of the Bombay Presidency match (later the Triangular, then Quadrangular, then Pentangular); since it was an annual fixture it was extremely difficult for most to break through.

Standing at 5’8”, Jamshedji relied more on flight. It took him a long time to impress the selectors and break through, but when he did — at an age of 30 — he did so in style. On his First-Class debut, in the Quadrangular semifinal of 1922-23 at Poona, he ran through the Europeans with 7 for 85. Once in the final, he guided the Parsees to victory with figures of 4 for 61 and 7 for 61.

There was no looking back from there. He went on a wicket-taking spree, and could not be left out when a combined European and Parsees team took on the touring MCC at Bombay Gymkhana in 1926-27. The match was drawn, but Jamshedji emerged as a hero, bowling out MCC twice with 6 for 104 and 5 for 43.

His other ten-for came against Europeans in the Quadrangular final of 1928-29, where, for some reason, he opened batting in the first innings and batted first-down in the second. However, more significantly, Jamshedji led Parsees to yet another title with 4 for 66 and 6 for 38.

His appearances became sporadic thereafter (once again, due to the domestic cricket structure). He did a decent in the trial matches (3 for 69 and 2 for 42 in the 2 matches at Patiala), but did not make it to the England tour of 1932, thereby missing out on an English summer (which would have almost doubled the number of First-Class matches in his career) and being a part of India’s first Test.

Creating history

When MCC toured India in 1933-34, a 41-year old Jamshedji turned up for them for Bombay. The hosts were skittled out for 87 before the tourists piled up 481 for 8. Jamshedji battled along, sending down 35 overs in return of 6 for 127: his wickets included those of Cyril Walters, Charlie Barnett, Douglas Jardine, and Stan Nichols. He was selected for the Test at Bombay Gymkhana — the first on Indian soil.

At 41 years 27 days Jamshedji became India’s oldest Test debutant (he still remains so). He is also the seventh-oldest Test debutant of all time. Making their debuts alongside Jamshedji were LP Jai, Ladha Ramji, and a couple of future stars in Lala Amarnath and Vijay Merchant.

CK Nayudu chose to bat in front of a 50,000-strong crowd who had crammed in, eager to become a part of history. Unfortunately for them, no batsman reached 40 as India were bowled out for 219 by Nichols, Hedley Verity, and James Langridge. Batting last, Jamshedji remained unbeaten on 4.

In response, Mohammad Nissar took out Arthur Mitchell early. Walters and Barnett added 63; Jamshedji was introduced as the fourth bowler, and he soon broke through, having Barnett caught and bowled. The Indians had a chance to gnaw back in when they reduced the tourists to 164 for 4, but Jardine and Bryan Valentine batted them out of the Test.

Nissar finally bowled Jardine, and shortly afterwards Jamshedji dismissed Leslie Townsend with an astounding catch. Wisden wrote: “There was nothing better in the match than the catch made by Jamshedji, the slow bowler, in dismissing Townsend, a very hard return being held beautifully.” Not bad for a 41-year old!

Valentine eventually became Jamshedji’s third wicket when he was caught by Merchant for 136 — the first Test century on Indian soil. England doubled India’s 219. Nissar took 5, but Jamshedji played his part as well, finishing with 3 for 137 from 35 overs.

That Amarnath became the first Indian to score a Test hundred is well-documented, so we would not go into that. Amidst tumultuous applause, Amarnath reached his hundred on the third afternoon. It was a Sunday, and was the first time that Test cricket was being played on a Sunday.

India folded meekly the next morning, losing their last 8 wickets for 51 as Nichols ran through. Batting at ten Jamshedji remained unbeaten with a solitary run. England needed 40, and these runs were acquired in 7.2 overs without any intervention from India’s oldest Test debutant. He never played another Test.

Later days

Jamshedji played a handful of matches thereafter. He got a solitary wicket against Jack Ryder’s Australians. Bombay did not play the inaugural Ranji Trophy, but when they did next season, Jamshedji played a crucial role in their victory: he had match figures of 6 for 99 in the semifinal against Northern India and 4 for 74 in the final against Madras, both at Kotla.

The 1938-39 Pentangular was his last appearance. The Europeans won a close encounter, and though Jamshedji got 3 tail-end wickets, he was targeted by the batsmen, and conceded 87 runs from 18.3 overs. A shade over 46, he decided to hang up his boots.

During his playing days Jamshedji worked as a clerk at Bombay Dyeing. He settled down in Bombay, and passed away on April 5, 1976. He was 83.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Deputy Editor and Cricket Historian at CricketCountry. He blogs here and can be followed on Twitter here.)